Disclaimed. Also note that I began this story right after Order of the Phoenix came out, so certain things are not canonical (such as Sirius's middle name being Altair instead of Orion, so please don't get furious over his middle name like one reviewer was). It eventually stops following the canon plot line after OotP anyway; and Sirius comes back alive, of course (the whole point of this exercise, really).
However We Know the Landscape of Love
—an unauthorized biographical account
Again and again, however we know the landscape of love
and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing names,
and the frighteningly silent abyss into which the others
Prologue: Pub Scene
Many things have been said about Sirius Altair Black, and very few about Larka Janet Roxburgh. In fact, we couldn't even say we knew her name—only vaguely, in the way that we said we recognized old schoolmates' names even if we didn't; the way names sounded familiar because we felt like they should be familiar. To us, she just sort of appeared one day, arriving at 12 Grimmauld Place and stepping inside with an anxious look on her face. So weren't we all so surprised that Sirius—Sirius, the bloke that half the birds at school used to pine over, even if by then he was a gaunt shadow of his old self, a sort of electric restlessness buzzing just underneath his skin—Sirius gathered her and fit her against him, a mellow piece to his ragged—ragged something, we weren't sure what exactly to call it.
Of course, we were very intrigued, but very quickly he died.
Then came the shocker.
And cor, what a story it was.
(Grab a pint—bit long, this telling, because to start at the beginning was the only way to start anything, wasn't it?)
In Medias Res
The woman was a figure out of a John William Waterhouse* piece, a lone profile against the impending storm, to be carried away by the next gust of wind—with some romantic liberties taken.
In truth, the woman was perhaps too level-minded to be blown away by any wind, despite her long cable-knit scarf flying in the wind (this was before such scarves rotated into fashion again)—and Waterhouse would not have painted someone so exceptionally, well, normal. The woman had long hair, deep brown and in a cut that spoke of walk-in neighbourhood saloons. Her eyes were of the same brown, neither large and watery nor long and curved, and although they were rendered brighter by eyeliner, the effect was minimal. Fortunately, her apple cheeks defied gravity despite other signs of easing into middle age (the crow's feet, the smile lines circling her thin mouth, the faint neck lines). Her nose did not particularly want character but offered none as well. Even her anxiousness was a commonplace English anxiety, as she wrung her hands and waited for something to happen—but wasn't everybody waiting for something or other? The apocalypse? Their house being bulldozed for a highway bypass? A better television program**?
This woman, though, was really waiting for the screech of childish laughter that soon pierced the muggy air. Two children ran after one another, zapping into existence from around the corner like faeries of old (or just nimble children): a little girl, very pretty, and a little boy, who was far less pretty, even at the tender age when youth often looked like beauty. The children ran towards the perfectly ordinary woman, who upended her perfectly ordinary frown into a relieved smile at the sight, and said in a perfectly ordinary Guildford*** accent, "Penelope, Pan, do come inside."
The children looked at her with appropriately childish disappointment as they were led through a yard lined with bristly borage flowers to a modest house washed in a soft yellow. Just as the woman fitted the keys into the door, the little, pretty girl shouted excitedly, "Look, Pan! Look at the black wolfie!"
The woman looked up, startled, and caught the outline of something very large and very black. She stood as if struck by the lightning that just flashed, but soon recovered herself. It was only the next-door Ramseys' black Labrador****, she reminded herself, a swirl of disappointment running at the bottom of her stomach, unsuitable for her sensible age.
"I baked some brownies," she diverted both their and her own attention away from the large black outline. At once, the children discarded the thought of the fantastical wolf, and were drawn inside to domestic promises of sugar and butter. The woman however, trailed behind and tried to breathe regularly and not let the hearth fire make her eyes water.
The living room was warm and cozy, full of large furniture that ate up space and made the room appear smaller than it already was. The woman stepped inside and pushed close the front door, until with a distinct 'click', she sealed the house from the rest of the world. She folded herself into an armchair by the window, made of a fabric with lopsided pandas, a bizarre and out of place look in the room full of practical oaken objects. A book***** had been lying limply on the carpeted floor, and the woman picked it up and tried to resume at the exact place where she left off.
But of course even warm brownies were not enough to sustain children, and so before she could remember where she had left off—each line of rhyme looked the same—a high-pitched voice broke the silence. "Auntie Larka, tell us a story!"
"Say please," the woman—Auntie Larka—replied reflexively, but her hands were already closing the book.
"Please!" Penelope turned her bright eyes on her, pleading.
She could always start Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border some other time, she supposed—it was mostly of old ballads involving faerie abductions anyhow, and Merlin knew she got an awful grade on that paper on faeries—a completely unacceptable Acceptable. Spurred by her renewed aversion towards faeries, she agreed, "All right, but promise not to interrupt," eliciting a promise that she knew they would not be able to keep.
"Promise!" the two shouted in unison, tumbling down from the chairs to the floor near her feet, looking up at her expectantly.
"What sort of story do you want to hear?" Larka asked.
"True love!" Penelope cried the same time as Pan screeched, "Adventure!"
"Magic!" Penelope said again, not to be undone by her brother, and Pan in turn said, "Danger!"
"Alright, alright," Larka lifted her hands, "A story of true love, adventure, magic, danger, moonlight rendezvous, duels, small against the powerful, wild wilderness, betrayal, war—"
"We get the idea!" Pan complained, although he could hardly imagine their Auntie Larka containing within her all these exciting things.
"So the story begins approximately fourteen years ago, at Hogwarts******—" Larka began as one might begin a science lesson.
"What's Hogwarts?" Penelope asked even as her eyes grew even larger, her mind unable to grasp the concept of fourteen years—or even the concept of a year, really, at the tender age when each day was like a year.
Someday, Larka thought, Penelope would break hearts and eat men like air—although Larka was really past the days of wishing her eyes would shine like that in the corner. "Hogwarts was my school—"
"Your school is that old?"
"Yes, and I was a student there fourteen years ago." Hogwarts, like some things, seemed to not have a beginning or an end. "Now what did say about interruptions?" she added, her tone not at all reprehensive.
Despite her mildness, Penelope still became rather docile (the girl's mother always did wonder how a woman like Larka could calm the natural disaster that was Penelope). The girl squeezed her lips firmly and refrained from saying that she hadn't thought Auntie Larka was so old.
"Let me begin again then," Larka tried again, "Fourteen years ago, there was a girl of but mere fifteen—"
It was Pan that broke her off this time, "That's you, ent it?"
Larka patted his head, strangely eager to recount her story to children too young to take it seriously, "Yes, perceptive man," she encouraged although his line was not known to produce perceptive males.
"Ahem," she cleared her throat and let her eyes gaze at the mountains and forests and Scottish landscapes that suddenly appeared just outside the window.
"It was the most exciting year of her schoolings—believe me, children, she never left school, not really. And it had been a very good year…"
(Thus, the story began.)
* Larka Janet Roxburgh had never once in her life fancied herself one of the heroines in a John William Waterhouse painting. In fact, she had no idea who he was, so was in no position to concoct daydreams based on his various oil-on-canvases of mythical and literary female figures. She would have found his colors intimidating anyhow.
** Despite the failure of the renewal effort of the Doctor Who series, there were in fact a great many good television programs coming to British channels, including some classic ones. All in all, plenty to satisfy the wait for better telly programs, but alas, people were also waiting for other things that were harder to come by.
*** One could take the bird out of Guildford, as the saying went. Not that Guildford had a distinct accent—most of her accent came from influence of her father, whose speech was influenced by his own father from the Scottish borders. She simply liked thinking about herself as a Guildfordian. Hers was a perplexing accent—not quite obvious enough to pinpoint ('aha! You're a Guildford bird!'), but enough so that one might furrow one's brow at something in the speech being off.
**** The black Labrador (Doug was his name) was quite often mistaken for a large wolf when he howled, with his imposing height and bushy tail. The Ramseys found it both amusing and a rather good security measure against would-be burglars at night, so they actively encouraged this behaviour with bacon-flavoured treats.
***** A gift from Remus John Lupin during Larka J. Roxburgh's first year out of school. She had packed it at the bottom of a box and had only recently rediscovered it.
****** This was not strictly following the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy (see ISWS 5311-5330 and Non-Magical Protection Act Chapter X, specifically, 14C-2 filing requirements 20 days before disclosure). In fact, to say that was being very loose with the Act in the first place. But if one was going to cast caution to the winds and tell a wild tale to one's niece and nephew, then one certainly was not going to be following the rules, ISWS or NMPA. It was only fitting, since the tale itself bore this spirit as well, and was shockingly full of rule-breaking and otherwise borderline illegal activities.
Author's Note: Story cover is the cover for the single 'Let Me Call You Sweetheart' from the glorious 20s. Poem is by the amazing, amazing Rilke.